Monday, May 23, 2011

Smokey Mountain High

I've recently decided I need a vacation. And you might say, "Cheryl, didn't you just get back from some travel?" Well, yes, but that's the very one I have had no time to process and share with you yet. I've been so busy with life's have-to's, I haven't even done much art since I returned. Even the "Silly" drawing club I paid for and joined hasn't seen me since the first week of the month. The "Sun, Moon, Stars" Whispering is going on without me, as are the Strathmore Visual Journaling lessons with Roz Stendahl. I have been seriously AWOL. Of course I haven't been doing nothing. Not possible with us A-types.

I'm scouring the house for things to sell at a yard sale this weekend, filling out paperwork for passport renewals, planning the next trip, working in the yard between rain events, getting back to a daily hour of exercise, trying to relearn basic embroidery stitches. In other words, I have way too many passions in my life for any one to have permanent priority (and that includes my new love, drawing.) So for a while I've given myself permission to put down the whip and leave my life to go where it will. I know for a fact it will return to drawing very shortly.

Where to begin telling you about Asheville? Let's just say there are certain requirements the man and I have for what makes us love a place, whether it be for a few days or the rest of our lives. They would be many and complex, but start with this list: approachable art, a sense of history with an ongoing story, food that entices and excites, beautiful (and interesting) views, safe and clean public places, and a soupcon of eccentricity to keep you just a tad off balance, and wanting more. Of course, having all this also means you will find a community of the kind of interesting people who would create such a town.

We were only there for three days this time, but the detailed telling could take as long. Therefore, to keep it brief, I share these annotated photos, bits and pieces to wet your appetite. Check out some of the links for a fuller picture. And whatever plans you are making for your summer, either near or far from home, I wish you a grand vacation from your ordinary.

Asheville, Old and New

The porch of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Old Kentucky Home, is just a across a small quiet street from the Renaissance Hotel (our favorite place to stay), the type of odd juxtaposition of country and city found all around Asheville.

Historic architecture abuts a modern public park in the center of town.

Classic and modern blend in this lovely walkway adjacent the government center.
 Town with a View

Capturing (in a handmade watercolor journal) bits and pieces of the atmosphere from the club lounge at our favorite place to stay in Asheville, the Renaissance downtown. Walking distance to almost everything you see in these photos.
Set among some gorgeous mountain views on all sides, the town itself is a very hilly walk, reminiscent of a little San Fran or even Portland.

Destination Attractions
The view from the club lounge was to this amazing structure on the North hills of town, the historic Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa.

You cannot visit Asheville without taking a walk through history at the largest privately owned home in the country, the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore House, set on the South end of town. Be prepared for a hefty entrance fee.

Street Art
This is only the tiniest sampling because it is EVERYWHERE, both civic, commercial, and private.

The peaceful inviting courtyard of a Thai restaurant.

Details of tile work at the Roger McGuire Green Amphitheater.

Wall mural outside an Italian restaurant.
Public Spaces
Empty stalls await sellers and buyers.

Sunning ourselves and sketching in the center of Pack Park complex to the tinkly musical mix of  workers at lunch, tourists at play, and water fountains and falls.

Some of it is in the buildings and the art, but much is in the constant street performance, intentional and not, of some of the more eccentric residents and artists. Sorry I have no picture, but I promise this is the truth: a bearded young man in full nun's habit riding a sort of double decker bike through downtown traffic at rush hour!
Bold colors are not unexpected.

Alley entrances to homes graced with collage art.

We didn't get a chance to imbibe at this punnily named bar but we did indulge in sampling oils and vinegars at Olive and Kickin'.
More choices than you could sample in an entire summer in town. For two nights we gave up "regular" food to indulge our dessert fantasies. 
Chocolate heaven, no jokin'!

Chocolate heaven has a dark chocolate couch.

In chocolate heaven you can also order wine and beer to increase the pleasure of the cacao high.

Stupefied by Highland Mocha Stout Cake, or was it the Spicy Nibby Brownies (with cayenne and cinnamon), or the Lavender Creme Brulee?

"Peace, Love, and Noodles."  If you have to eat a real meal, you might as well do it where there's a party going on. 
Best ever fortunes!

Is this woman enjoying herself? You bet!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is It Retirement Yet?

Unfortunately not; but some days I am so ready. So is my husband, of course, but for different reasons. Like being tired of working sixty hour weeks at a crazy, difficult, dirty industrial job for the last forty years (that after making it home intact from a crazy, difficult, dirty jungle-fought war.) No, I can't compare my pain to his, since I actually retired from my last full-time job (teaching middle school home economics) twenty years ago this June. I have been a privileged "kept" woman since.

Dave tries out the concept of retirement: Nope, not quite ready.

The retirement I want is where we get to move on to a new adventure, together and individually, to have new surroundings and experiences, and think about life in new ways. Our destination, on hold for a while yet, is the gorgeous Pacific Northwest, with the city of Portland as our likely base of operation. We have been there: we are smitten. You can't talk us out of it (at least, I hope not.) But we'll have to settle at the moment for a late summer vacation there and continue to plot and plan.

Enjoying the beautiful campus of Furman University in Greenville, SC

These ducks were excellent "posers," but alas, I had come with
 companions and there was no time to draw.

Meanwhile some very close friends who have shared our life in both Maryland and Indiana did indeed find a way to retire early and skipped out on the "Lake Effect Snow Belt" we call Michigan City to move to the year round warm climate of South Carolina. For me, a tad too Southerly. I'm a Northerner, a coastie, and a cool weather kind of girl, but after the winter (and spring we've had so far) it was wonderful to thaw out with a week of Southern climate and hospitality.

We set out on our road trip in the midst of all those torrential rains of Easter weekend, nervously crossing the Ohio River to see Louisville somewhat submerged around the edges already. We were hydroplaning on bridge surfaces, and large trucks were menacing (passed one that had made it into the median just short of the other side of the highway.) The news had daily reports of evil winds playing havoc with threats of more to come. I kept wondering why it had to be so crazy just when we most needed some uneventful and laid back time. For a week we traveled on the edge of disasters, but were blessed to personally skirt it all.

I had decided to start a journal specifically for trying out and saving patterns and textures. I found these individual doodle blocks to be the perfect size before-bed project for a hotel room. Something I may carry on at home.

Although Lexington, Kentucky is the midpoint of our mileage and a stopover, this time we had to pass on the horsey delights of the wonderful Kentucky Horse Park, and the pre-Derby races at gorgeous Keeneland. If you have experienced neither and love horses, put them on your travel wish list. On our last trip through I got to meet (among others) the horse that played the role of "Seabiscuit" in the movie with Tobey Maguire, and when the crazy cocktail-party-in-heels at Keeneland was standing room only, I got to stand at the railing next to the winner's circle.

I finally started my practice of journaling on this trip. Yeah! I used the little accordion fold ones I showed you last time. This one is for all "coffeehouse" related subjects.

First time drawing flowers in their natural setting. I was also standing most of the time, and trying to create a pleasing composition on the spot. Unfortunately I had to do the painting a couple days later from photos. You can only keep friends waiting so long, and the hot weather was defeating my enthusiasm as well. This one will be all about gardens.

Our brief stay in Greenville was a foray into summer (before knowing spring), and as lovely and fun as was the experience, it was also a reminder of why I don't want to retire South: I hate humidity! I don't do sultry well (at least not in that sense!) I also require a bigger town with more variety of scene within and without. A little edgier. A small scale big city set between a mountain and an ocean, well you get my drift.

Posing outside our friends' house. It was too warm in SC, and we only had a couple opportunities for wearing them later in the week. To this date, no comments from strangers!

But I totally understand our friends' love affair with their new home. Number one is their proximity to Furman University, and its welcoming attitude to townies, and especially seniors. They get to call campus home to attend the arts, walk the gardens, but further, to study, tuition free with the same respect and involvement as the paying clientele. Oh, the joys of a well endowed university. My friend is planning a two year course in photography for only the cost of materials and lab fees. I am quite awed at this opportunity.

Back home I couldn't wait to get back to my needle and cloth. I can tell I'm going to be a fool for embroidery. This is a detail of the heart sampler I'm working on.

I am hoping and dreaming that such situations will arise for us when we finally make it to the next phase. Meanwhile too much busy reality intrudes from the here and now. Yes, formal art study would be grand, but this home schooling business isn't such a bad thing. Gives me a chance to build my "portfolio," find my preferred medium. Every day is a gift and life is the best school. So what should I work on next? Time to get back to Carla's "Silly" lessons. No time to talk about Asheville today. We'll save that for our next chat. Later, fellow travelers!